Ask any entrepreneur how he or she feels about hiring and you are likely to be on the receiving end of an eye roll, a sigh and a war story. It’s common for business owners to struggle with the hiring portion of their jobs because, after all, we started our businesses with a specific product or service in mind. Hiring is usually something we learn as we go.
We started Prezi with a group of friends who knew each over many years. When it came time to hire our first employee from outside the inner circle, I posted an ad online and received a response from an enthusiastic, well-qualified candidate.
I was thrilled and hired him after our initial interview. But by his third day on the job, I knew I’d made a mistake. Our personalities and work strategies did not mesh. On day four, I tried to make the best of it. By day five, I knew it would never work and fired him.
Step 1: Assessments to the rescue.
This experience taught me that interview performance can be rehearsed at best, misleading at worst. I started thinking that hiring should not be about interviewing, but instead about assessing real fit by way of working side by side. With this thought in mind, we launched a week-long, in-office testing assessments designed for top candidates. Assessments would include a series of assignments similar to the job the person was applying for. Along with the assignments, the candidate would work in tandem with the actual people who would comprise their team.
The objective was to assess, via real work, whether the candidate had the necessary skills and was a cultural fit. We also discovered a fantastic added benefit: the candidate could also learn if he or she would enjoy working at Prezi. We believe this is key to successful hiring—everybody wants their employees to be happy, but most companies don’t really give candidates the chance to assess their prospective employers. After all, they probably know themselves better than what we do.
Each potential hire signed an NDA, was introduced to their teams and received real projects on which to work. There was minimal structure to these assessments; the idea was to give the candidate an opportunity to showcase their problem solving methodology while practicing working together as a whole. Perfect solution, right? Well, it was a good start.
Step 2: Abbreviating the assessment.
At first, our assessments took place over five working days and involved several candidates for one position. While this process seemed like an ideal way to identify the right person for a role, it was hard to scale. Candidates complained about spending five days away from their current jobs. The internal downstream effects were also negative; team members were spending a lot of time getting their potential co-workers up to speed.
We decided to abbreviate the assessment to two days and involve only the best candidates (one or two people, tops). Since that change, we’ve experienced minimal pushback. The candidates seem to appreciate the opportunity to try us out as much as we do.
Step 3: Adding training to the mix.
In addition to shorter assessments, our recruiting team started offering interview skills training for current employees. This has been a critically important step in our hiring efforts. Two or three times per year, voluntary half-day or full-day seminars on how to facilitate effective interviews are held on topics including skill assessment techniques and asking the right questions.
These events help teams work together, and improve the interview experience for the candidate. Interview skills training has increased our chances of identifying highly qualified potential employees before we ask them to go through an assessment.
Even with our learnings and improved processes,hiring is still hard. Recruiters often compare looking for the right candidates to dating—not only because of the many games we end up generating with the wrong processes, but also because even with a perfect process, any person’s potential is hard to grasp fully, because potential is truly contextual. But if you create a great framework for an assessment program, you can let the right decisions unfold.
Effective Hiring: Our Three-Step Journey To A Better Process (Forbes.com)